Van Sowerwine – Bio

Van Sowerwine is a new media artist who works across the areas of animation, installation, interactives and photography. She creates artworks that play with tensions between seemingly opposite forces such as light and darkness, danger and safety, the benign and the malignant. Her artworks use the symbols of play - populated as they are with dolls and cubby houses, peepholes and wind up mechanisms. The audience is enticed not only to look, but to engage. It's only once we begin to play, that Sowerwine turns the tables on us. Her toys become dangerous, her dolls lose their sweetness.

Hold My Hand and We'll Be Safe (Stills 2009) is a combination of live animation, mechanical child's toy and peepshow. It begins with simple child's play then becomes something a little more unexpected. Viewers peer inside a plywood box and see shadows of a boy and a girl in a strange cave-like setting, the boy holding a skipping rope. As they turn a handle the boy skips, his movement getting faster and more frantic and he begins to seem trapped in a trance of macabre dance.

Small Beasts (2007) combines sculpture, video and photography and was exhibited as a solo show at Stills Gallery. The series includes two creatures Max & Oliver, who possess numerous opposing elements. They are made from flesh-coloured plastic, suggesting both an organic and artificial origin, are both attractive yet slightly strange. Each sculpted creature is a little larger than a basketball, suggesting a 'pet-like' scale to be cradled and patted as an object of affection, yet they are cold and hard to the touch. The contrast in the beasts is also evident in their external cute appeal, which is combined with internal horror, as you can peep into their heads (through peepholes) and see their swirling & slightly nauseating thoughts. Small Beast: Oliver was exhibited as part of the Woollahra Council Small Sculpture Prize 2007.

In 2006 Stills exhibited What Big Eyes You Have (2004). As with much of her work, in this installation Sowerwine is particularly interested in exploring the dark underside of idealised notions of childhood, and the possibilities of a sudden slippage from the familiar into the unknown. With her animated doll characters, she creates domestic scenes that show children as both witness and instigator of violence, and she combines cuteness and vulnerability with a use of scale that can depict child as monster.

In Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth (2005), exhibited at Stills Gallery, Sowerwine continued these investigations through a series of large photos of miniature domestic scenes. Sowerwine painstakingly makes her subjects and their settings before photographing the scenes. Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth shows Sophie, an eight-year old girl who is angry, upset and vulnerable. She is alone in a kitchen, surrounded by the evidence of recent violence: upturned furniture, broken plates and food thrown against the wall. Sophie accosts viewers with her defiant stare, challenging us to determine what has happened. Did she instigate or simply witness the destruction that surrounds her? Sophie's doll-like appearance and large eyes convey cuteness, passivity and vulnerability. This harmless exterior belies a more sinister truth conveyed by the violence of her situation and stance.

Similar themes are at play in her 2002 interactive work, Play With Me. The viewer is lulled into a false sense of security when invited to enter a child's cubby house. Inside, a doll-like animated child offers the viewer to take part in a tea party that ends in a number of fateful consequences. Van Sowerwine's Clara (2005) won a Special Mention Award in the Short Film Palme d'Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. It is a short animation about a 12-year-old girl who is struggling with a massive change in her life. Disoriented and confused, Clara's efforts to remedy the situation and make sense of her new world are thwarted when flowers attack her and ants invade her home.

Sowerwine has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally. In 2009, she had a solo exhibition at Western Plains Cultural Centre Dubbo, entitled A Child's Eyes : Van Sowerwine, and is included in the group show Trouble in Toyland, Counihan Gallery, Melbourne. In 2008 her work featured in International Digital Art, Songzhuang Art Museum, Beijing, and she exhibited at Art Cologne 2006 and screened work in Sundance Film Festival, USA. Her animated installation (with Clara animator Isobel Knowles) Expecting toured around Australia in 2004/2005 as part of the Experimenta: House of Tomorrow exhibition. Her previous interactive Play With Me (2002) was selected for the inaugural Anne Landa Award (2004/2005) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales - the first award-exhibition for the moving image and new media in Australia. Both interactives Expecting and Play With Me have also been shown as part of Media City Seoul 2004, the Korean biennale of new media art. Her animation Gillian was highly commended in the 2001 Dendy Awards as part of the Sydney Film Festival, and won Best Animation at the National Student Film and Video festival, and was screened at NewFest 2003 in New York.